Sunday’s national election for Japan’s Lower House (i.e. House of Representatives) was carried mightily by PM Shinzo Abe’s LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). Some internet sources are calling this a mandate for restarting Japan’s currently-idled nukes, which has been echoed in a few international Press outlets. While a small fraction of Japan’s largely-liberal Press have tried to make the impending nuke restarts an election outcome issue, the bulk of the election’s Japanese Press have focused on other topics and essentially left the restart issue in the lurch. It is this reporter’s opinion that the lower house election changes nothing with respect to nuclear issues inside Japan.
The Lower House election was called by PM Abe because of wide-spread negative Press over several controversial moves made by his administration. Abe’s reforms include the recent passage of Japan’s first national security legislation since WWII, the weakening of the yen in order to stimulate foreign investment, and a sales tax in April that flattened the public’s spending. Another sales tax increase is proposed for next year, bringing an additional wave of criticism with it. Abe called for the “snap election” to seek a “renewed mandate” for continuing his administration’s reforms, hoping to counter news media criticism.
On the surface, the election was a landslide victory for the LDP and its coalition partner party, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito. But, it actually made little difference in the political demographic within the Lower House. The coalition already held a 2/3 majority, allowing it to chair all seventeen standing committees in the House. This virtually assures the continuation of smooth passage of all bills at the committee level before being put to a vote in the chamber. It also allows to Lower House to over-ride decisions made in the upper house (i.e. Senate). It further means Abe will remain as Prime Minister, which is not a surprise to anyone.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that number of representatives from the ruling coalition increased by only one, and stands at 326 of the 475 seats. One the other hand, only about 55% of all eligible voters actually voted, which was the lowest ever. Most news outlets say the election outcome was largely due to voter apathy. In addition, the LDP garnered only 48% of the total votes cast. As a result, the largely liberal Press is taking a “ho-hum” attitude to the election results. Mainichi Shimbun says the LDP victory is a “mandate that lacks any sense of exaltation”, Japan Times called it a “hollow victory”, the Diplomat dubs it an “ambiguous mandate”, and many other outlets say Abe won by default since there were no other viable parties presenting better options. The Asahi Shimbun went so far as to dub the snap election and abrupt move that caught the opposition parties off-guard, and “the political equivalent to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.” It thus seems the Japanese Press’ liberal demographic will likely continue its anti-Abe agenda. This indicates that very little has changed with respect to Japan’s socio-political landscape.
The same can be said about the issue of restarting Japan’s nukes. As was the case before Sunday, restarts will only occur after all new guidelines created by the Nuclear Regulation Authority have been met or exceeded and local public approval has been garnered. Progression toward the inevitable resumption of nuke operations will continue to limp along at a snail’s-pace. To be blunt, nothing will change on the nuclear front due to the election. To speculate otherwise seems unwarranted, either from a pronuclear or antinuclear stance.
It cannot be realistically denied that as the qualified nukes come on-line… one or two at a time with each station’s restart separated from the next by several months… Japan’s treacherous trade deficit will be lessened. This will surely bolster Abe’s effort to affect an economic recovery, but it will be a slow process. Despite a few Japanese news sources reporting to the contrary (e.g. Japan Times, Kyodo News), there is no reason to think the timetable for restarts will speed up or the number of nukes allowed to come on line will swell because of a Lower House election that did nothing more than maintain the status quo.